Vienna Terrorist Attack Live Updates: As Death Count Rises to 4, Suspect Is Described as ISIS Sympathizer

By Katrin Bennhold, Melissa Eddy, Christopher F. Schuetze and Megan Specia

The gunman, who was killed during the attack, once served time in prison for trying to join the Islamic State. The authorities now say there is no indication that other assailants took part in the rampage

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The authorities defended their decision to release the suspect from prison early, saying there had been no sign that he might be a threat.

ImageInvestigators searching for evidence in Vienna on Tuesday.
Investigators searching for evidence in Vienna on Tuesday.Credit...Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

A man who opened fire in central Vienna on Monday night while armed with an automatic rifle, a pistol and a machete was a 20-year-old Austrian citizen who once tried to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said in a news briefing on Tuesday.

The rampage left four dead and 22 others wounded in the heart of the Austrian capital before the gunman was killed by the police nine minutes after the assault began, Mr. Nehammer said. Though the authorities initially spoke of multiple gunmen, on Tuesday they said the evidence gathered so far showed no indication that others were involved.

The attacker, an Austrian who also has citizenship from North Macedonia, was identified as Kujtim Fejzulai by officials and his former lawyer, Nikolaus Rast.

Barely 24 hours after the attack, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for it, calling the gunman a “soldier of the caliphate” who had targeted “close to 30 Crusaders,” according to a statement translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online extremist messaging.

It was not clear from the declaration whether the Islamic State was claiming to have helped plan the attack. But the group has used similar language before in asserting responsibility for assaults by individuals who had acted on their own.

Mr. Nehammer said that the gunman had once been arrested after trying to travel to Syria to join ISIS. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison but released early.

His history raised questions about how someone on the radar of the authorities had managed to carry out such an attack.

Austrians vowed that the attacker would not divide their society or destroy their democracy.

On Tuesday, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in an address to the nation that the gunman was “definitely an Islamist terrorist attack” and that the assault grew out of “hatred, hatred for our basic values.”

But Mr. Kurz added a note of caution.

“This is no fight between Christians and Muslims, or between Austrians and migrants,” he said. “This is a fight between civilization and barbarism.”

Ümit Vural, president of the Islamic Faith Community in Austria, condemned the “cowardly, revolting attack,” calling it “an attack on our Vienna” and “an attack on all of us.”

“Our democracy, our freedom and liberal order is stronger than violence and terror,” Mr. Vural said.

An ecumenical memorial service for the victims was held Tuesday evening at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and the government announced a three-day period of official mourning, with flags on public buildings ordered flown at half-staff. A minute’s silence was held at noon.

On Tuesday morning, Harald Sörös, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said that a second woman wounded in the attack had died, bringing the number of dead to four.

The rampage on Monday followed recent attacks in France, including the beheading of a teacher and a knife attack at a church, that have both been linked to Islamist extremists.

”We often see ourselves as a blessed island where violence and terror is only known from abroad,” Chancellor Kurz said. “But the sad truth is, even if we live in a generally safe country, we don’t live in a safe world.”

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria, right, paying respects to the victims of the shooting, alongside the country’s president, Alexander van der Bellen, center, and Wolfgang Sobotka, the presiding officer in Parliament.Credit...Joe Klamar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The attacker was known to the authorities and had previously been convicted of attempted jihad and attempted membership in a terrorist organization, after he tried unsuccessfully to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State, Mr. Nehammer, the Austrian interior minister, said Tuesday.

He was sentenced to 22 months in prison but was allowed out early, Mr. Nehammer said.

He defended the decision to release the young man, pointing to his good behavior in prison. And he insisted the young man had appeared to be “fully integrated” into society — though evidence found in his apartment, including a stockpile of munitions, after the attack told a different story.

“There were no warning signs about his radicalization,” Mr. Nehammer said, promising to review the justice system to try to ensure that a similar mistake not be made again.

Before setting out on his attack, the man posted a photograph of himself to social media. It showed him wielding a machete and a rifle with a message that “clearly indicated his sympathy for I.S.,” the minister said, referring to the Islamic State.

The lawyer who represented the man in 2018 after he was caught trying to join ISIS said there had been no indication he was dangerous. The lawyer, Nikolaus Rast, said his client had planned to travel to Syria to join the extremist group with a friend, but only got as far as Turkey before being arrested.

There was no suggestion that his parents shared his views, and, in fact, the man’s mother was the one who alerted the authorities when he went missing, Mr. Rast said.

Mr. Rast said that his client’s remorse after returning to Austria seemed genuine and that his behavior in prison was such that he was released after only about a year of his 22-month sentence. He took part in a special de-radicalization program, the lawyer said.

“He gave the impression of a young man who was searching for who he was,” Mr. Rast said. “At no point did I have the impression that he was dangerous.”

At least 14 people with links to the gunman in Austria have been detained and are being questioned, and 18 locations are being searched, Mr. Nehammer said. Several raids were carried out, mostly in Vienna, but also in St. Pölten, an hour west of the city, and in Linz, about 115 miles west of the capital.

With the barricades down, Austrians trickled back into the scene of the attack.

Chairs and tables at a cafe on Tuesday, left abandoned during the attack the night before.Credit...Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

Late Tuesday afternoon, their forensic investigation over, the Austrian police reopened the narrow streets where the rampage had played out to members of the public.

Investigators had spent all day securing evidence — but no one had cleaned up

Pools of blood could still be seen on the tiled streets and in an alleyway, and a pile of bloodied paper towels was strewn in one corner.

Some restaurants were eerie scenes of life suspended, with half-emptied glasses and, on one table, a bowl of soup and bread that appeared untouched. Others showed clear signs of the panic of the evening before, with knocked-over tables, toppled beer bottles and trails of blood

And everywhere were the hundreds of police evidence tags marking where bullets had hit or other potential evidence that had been left behind.

Some wandered the streets forlornly.

“We lived comfortably for so long, but we also acted too comfortably, saying, ‘Oh this could never happen here,’” said Danuta Ehtreiber a 63-year old Polish immigrant who has lived in Vienna for 17 years.

Ms. Ehtreiber had come to a cathedral nearby to pay her respects at a memorial service, but left after just 10 minutes because she felt the crowd was sitting too close, despite the coronavirus.

Michael Kramer, 33, lives just yards from where the attacker shot a man, but had not been at home. He spent the night at a friend’s place and returned only when the police blockade was lifted.

On Tuesday, Mr. Kramer looked stunned as he took in the scene.

“You always think you are in a bubble and that nothing can happen,” he said. “And then something like this happens right in front of your door.”

The authorities are still piecing together the chain of events.

The scene in Vienna on Monday night after the shooting.Credit...Roland Schlager/Agence France-Presse

Mr. Nehammer and the police said investigators were still reconstructing the events of Monday night, trying to determine how just one gunman, as they now believe, could have been responsible for the gunshots recorded at all six locations.

The first emergency calls reached police at 8 p.m. from the Seitenstettengasse, where the city’s main synagogue sits surrounded by bars, an area known locally as the “Bermuda Triangle.”

There, the gunman opened fire on a young man in the street. And around the corner, a woman waiting tables at a bar in the Ruprechtsplatz, named for the city’s oldest church, was shot and killed.

At 8:09 p.m. police fatally shot the gunman in the same square.

The police said that another victim was found on the Fleischmarkt — several minutes’ walk from the Ruprechtsplatz — and another on a nearby open square beside the canal that runs through the city, the Franz-Josefs-Kai. A 28-year-old police officer was also shot there, but a group of young men dragged him to safety and are credited with saving his life.

A bustling capital gone quiet.

The center of Vienna on Tuesday was largely empty of people.Credit...Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

The cobbled streets of the center of Vienna, normally full of tourists, government employees and other citizens, was largely empty on Tuesday, save for hundreds of heavily armed police officers. School attendance was optional and residents were encouraged to stay home.

Church bells rang out at noon, as the city paused for a moment to honor the victims. Among them, Austria’s largest church bell — the “Pummerin,” which hangs in the northern tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and is only used for special events — rang out.

The attack on Monday came hours before the country entered a lockdown to combat the coronavirus, and many people had gathered outdoors in Vienna before it came into force. Hundreds of others were trapped in the city’s famed opera house and the national theater, both of which were evacuated by the police hours after the curtains had fallen.

“You could feel a lot of people wanted to get out one more time before lockdown starts,” said Ameli Pietsch, 23, who was in the area an hour before the attack. “It was a mild evening, and lots of people were outside.”

All of that changed in a moment. People scrambled from the streets to shelter in restaurants, and all trams and subways in the city’s center were halted as the police urged residents to shelter in place.

The sound of sirens and helicopters filled the night air as people struggled to absorb what was happening.

Said Farnaz Alavi, 34, a human resources consultant in Vienna, said, “We are in shock.”

Mr. Kurz said in his speech Tuesday morning that the gunman had killed four people at close range — an older man, an older woman, a younger man passing by and a waitress working in a restaurant.

But he also urged citizens to remember that “our enemy is never all those belonging to a religion, our enemy is never all the people that come from a particular country” but rather “our enemy is extremists and terrorists.”

“They do not belong in our society,” he said.

The city has found itself in the cross hairs before.

The aftermath of a 1985 attack at the airport in Vienna.Credit...Leopold Nekula/Sygma, via Getty Images

Austria — and Vienna in particular — has been a target over the years for terrorist attacks, often with deadly outcomes. Religious and political tensions, sometimes with no clear connection to Austria, have led to sporadic violence.

In 1975, a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in the city was stormed by six men with submachine guns. They killed three people and took at least 60 hostages.

A group that claimed responsibility cast the attack as “an act of political contestation and information” aimed at “the alliance between American imperialism and the capitulating reactionary forces in the Arab homeland.”

In 1981, Heinz Nittel, a leader of the Austrian Socialist party and head of the Austria-Israel Friendship Society, was assassinated outside his home by an assailant associated with a militant Palestinian group.

Two people were killed in 1981 when terrorists attacked a synagogue with grenades and firearms. Just after Christmas in 1985, panic engulfed the Vienna airport when three gunmen stormed the check-in lounge and opened fire with submachine guns, killing three and wounding dozens.

Witnesses at the time said the attack began as an El Al Israel Airlines flight was boarding. The attack appeared to be coordinated with another El Al check-in 10 minutes earlier in Rome.

From 1993 to 1997, a series of mail bombs and other explosive devices, including one that wounded the mayor of Vienna, stoked fears of rising neo-Nazi terrorism in the country. The man who was convicted in the attacks said that his goal had been to create a reunification of German-speaking areas.

Melissa Eddy, Christopher F. Schuetze and Katrin Bennhold reported from Berlin, and Megan Specia from London. Reporting was contributed by Anton Troianovski from Moscow; Aurelien Breeden from Paris; Livia Albeck-Ripka from Darwin, Australia; Joe Ritchie from Hong Kong; and Christoph Koettl, Farnaz Fassihi and Emmett Lindner from New York.